10 Tips for Effective Political Designs

For those of you who have been following my blog for some time, you may have noticed that I have quite a bit of experience in political design; that is graphic and web design for politicians, political organizations and government agencies. For a time, political design was my niche and I was able to work for quite a few politicians, organizations and government agencies including governors, congressmen, state representatives and city council members. I was also fortunate enough to do work for national and local organizations.

I will be the first person to tell you that political design isn’t the most glamorous sector of the design field. In fact, it can be downright boring sometimes. The upside to it is that it’s fairly consistent work. In the U.S. there can be elections every year with new candidates, new themes, new issues, etc. It’s also a great way to participate in the political process that does not involve stuffing envelopes, getting chased by dogs walking door-to-door and making phone calls.

With so much experience in political design I’ve decided to write a short article describing what works, what doesn’t and what’s just plain ugly so you don’t have to learn these things the hard way, like I did.

Don’t be afraid to be creative
I’ve seen a lot of political designs in my time.  I’ll be honest; most of it looks exactly the same; like crap.  The best political designs are unique.  Don’t bore your audience with the same red, white and blue design.  Add some different colors or come up with a new and catchy slogan.  These types of things will make your message stand out from the rest.

Bigger isn’t always better
Politicians love to see their name in big print and the bigger, the better.  A long time ago they built monuments in their name, today, they have TV, internet, billboards and yard signs.

In all my time designing for politicians there has been one constant.  Everyone I have ever worked for has said at one time or another “Can you make my name a little bigger?”

I’m not knocking big print.  There are certainly uses for it.  Obviously, there are some instances where the print needs to be bigger so it can be seen from far away; for instance, a billboard or yard sign that needs to be seen from the road.  The size of the print however, should never come at the expense of the overall design of the composition.  For instance, you should always maintain a pleasing margin.  Don’t extend the text to the edges of the paper.  I know this sounds silly but I’ve had a lot of clients ask for this.  If your text is too big, it can make the composition cluttered and hard to read.

There are more than three colors in the spectrum
Be open-minded.  Red, white and blue aren’t the only colors in the spectrum.  Think about using a color like yellow, green or orange to set your designs apart from the others.  This might be one of the more controversial tips that I give.  Conventional wisdom says that red, white and blue works.  So why change it?  To be honest, red, white and blue is boring.  Try something different, it might just work out!

Don’t put red text on a blue background
I see this mistake all the time.  Never place red text on a blue background.  Red text on a blue background is hard to read.  If you’re sticking with the red, white and blue color scheme, use white text instead.  It looks much better.

Use symbolism sparingly
Symbolism is an important part of political design.  It’s very common to see waving flags, stars, stripes or maybe an eagle or two in a political design but try not to go overboard.  If you’re design starts to look like heavy metal album, take a step back and try to tone it down a bit.  Remember, your design should be clean and refined.  Don’t clutter it up with symbols.  Stay focused on the candidate and the message.

State outlines are ugly
There’s a tendency for a lot of designers to use the shape of their particular state in their designs.  This is one of my pet peeves.  You should never use the outline of a particular state in your design.  This is a crutch that lazy designers use to link the candidate with the state that they are running in.  There are better ways to do this.  Try thinking differently.  What do most people think about when they think about California?  Maybe the beach?  Warm weather?  Palm trees?  Think along those lines and maybe something will pop out at you.

Don’t over-use bold text
Designers bold something when we want some words to stand out.  This is one of those Design 101 things.  The problem is that a lot of clients will want to bold everything and if everything is bolded, then nothing will stand out.  Try to think of other ways to make something stand out.  Change the color, make the text bigger, use a different font but do your best to not over use bold text.

Don’t say too much
Big surprise, politicians are long-winded and when it comes to ad copy, they want to say as much about themselves as possible.  The problem is that most people won’t read the majority of your text.  Try to keep your ad copy down to a couple short slogans and a paragraph or two.  The less text you include, the higher the odds your text will be read.

Enlist the help of a professional designer
The scariest thing to come out of a candidate’s mouth is when they tell you that they are going to design their own campaign graphics or if they tell you that their grandson knows Photoshop.  Doing this type of thing in-house is a big mistake.  Professional designers spend their entire lives thinking about design.  They understand what looks good and what doesn’t.  They’ve learned through trial and error and won’t make the same mistakes that your grandson will.  Hire a professional, you won’t regret it.

Hire a good photographer
There was a time when photography was an art form; when a photographer was a person who spent most of their time in a dark room developing film.  Now that we’ve switched from film to digital, everyone thinks they are a photographer.  This is a problem.  Anyone can take a picture, but not everyone is a photographer.  If you want your designs to be great, you need great photos.  The only way that you will have great photos is if you hire a great photographer.

Once you have your photographer, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.

  1. Make sure that the photographer knows what these photos are going to be used for.  If they’re going to be used in print, it is sometimes good for him to leave some room on the top, bottom, left or right for the designer to add some text.
  2. Make sure that the photos that the photographer takes reinforce the mood of the design you are hoping to create.  For instance, if you’re sending out a piece of mail advertising a fundraiser with the candidate, use a nice photo of the candidate (maybe with his family), and maybe some photos of the candidate meeting people, shaking hands, etc..
  3. Make sure that the setting is appropriate.  Don’t take photos of the candidate and their family for an ad in which the candidate is attacking their opponent.
Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.

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    Your story was featured in Design Bump! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it:

    September 23, 2008 at 10:19 AM
  • Beattie

    Grant I mean!!! Sorry man… I should remember the General turned President!

    September 23, 2008 at 11:01 PM
  • Driton

    Thank you ;)

    September 25, 2008 at 10:31 AM
  • Online Printing Company |

    Great tips, esp. on the photographer! Some designers seem to think Photoshop can fix anything, but messing around with a photo’s dimensions to fit in some text can make the shot look odd when you aren’t using the original composition. So telling the photographer what the photos will be used for is absolutely necessary. Thanks for bringing up the point!

    December 11, 2008 at 2:47 AM